By Will Bradley

With the summer officially kicking off — albeit masked, socially-distanced and mostly home-based — the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations recently launched a new online panel series, streamed live on the Center’s Facebook page and titled “Plank Summer Sessions.”

The series, focused on topics relevant to the current world of public relations, had one logical starting point: soon-to-be graduates, recent graduates and young professionals, three of the groups hardest hit by pandemic-induced layoffs and internship cancellations. The Plank Center’s Emerging Leaders Committee, a team of young professionals that serve as a liaison between the Center and those in the first several stages of their careers, was on hand to answer questions.

“If a company has a hiring freeze right now, ask them if you can shadow today,” said Maret Montanari, communications specialist at Jackson Spalding in Dallas, when asked about how new graduates can best make use of these uncertain times. “They may not be hiring but professionals will be looking for ways to help new graduates find jobs.”

Brian Price, global communications business partner at AXIS Capital, said this moment may provide new graduates an otherwise-unavailable opportunity to pick up new skills.

“You have to be showing your hustle right now … if you show you can play in this environment, it can be a huge way to put yourself over the top,” Price said.

For new graduates and recent hires who do have PR jobs during the pandemic, the Emerging Leaders recommend a similarly positive, flexible attitude.

“Flexibility and adaptability are going to be key right now,” said Leah Seay, manufacturing communications lead for General Motors. “This is the time to show you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and help with anything possible.”

“Everyone is in the same situation of fear and hesitation right now. It’s so important to show up with a good attitude every day and to put your best foot forward,” said Taylor Shelnutt, senior account executive at FleishmanHillard Dallas.

As always, but especially right now, the Emerging Leaders say being a constant learner and attaining subject matter expertise is key.

“Understanding what our economy and our industry are going through right now is pretty important,” said Myreete Wolford, business development manager at Ketchum. “Make sure to understand the current trends and what people are going through and be very aware of it.”

For those who do have the opportunity to interview for a job now or in the coming months, members of the Emerging Leaders recommend being prepared with examples of how you have made the most of the coronavirus shutdown.

“When interviewing, I want to know how you best use your time,” Wolford said. “Show up with a case study of what you took from COVID-19.”

Chris Bonelli, who works in design, product and brand communications for General Motors, pointed to traditional interview skills that still work in the current environment and can be strengthened even further during the additional downtime.

“Having more time to prepare for an interview right now, go through and craft some answers to questions you might be asked,” Bonelli said. “Get in your head some situational examples that will let your skills shine.”

The latter half of the panel session focused on ways young professionals can maintain healthy personal habits, such as work-life balance and ways executives can be personally supportive.

“I think this is a unique opportunity right now. There is more time in your day to carve out the pieces that benefit your life outside work,” Shelnutt said. “Form a schedule and stick to routine.”

“I’ve been encouraging people I mentor to figure out what they want to keep post-COVID and figure out ways they can incorporate that once we go back into the workforce,” Wolford said. “And I want them to be vocal about it.”
Future Plank Summer Sessions panel topics will include the implications of COVID-19 on public relations, post-pandemic CSR efforts, best practices in PR education for a distance learning environment and more. The Center is producing an additional monthly panel series, titled “Elevating Black Voices in PR Leadership,” focused on the industry’s role in advancing racial justice, for the remainder of 2020.

The full first edition of Plank Summer Sessions can be streamed on the Center’s Facebook Watch here.

Photo by Carl Heyerdahl

 Will Bradley is a junior at The University of Alabama, majoring in public relations and communication studies, with a specialization in organizational leadership. He currently serves as an Account Executive for Capstone Agency, the on-campus integrated communications firm and agency of record for The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations. Will serves as Director of Communications and Chief Speechwriter for the Student Government Association and leads corporate giving initiatives for UA Dance Marathon, the University’s largest philanthropy.